Flawed Jus­tice

Southasia - - COMMENT -

Salaud­din Quadir Chowd­hury, leader of the Bangladesh Na­tional Party and Ali Ah­san Mo­ja­heed of the Ja­maat-e-Is­lami, were hanged late one night re­cently in Dhaka’s Cen­tral Jail. The al­le­ga­tions against them: com­mit­ting crimes against Bangladesh dur­ing the 1971 war – al­though it is true that there was no Bangladesh then and the war was be­tween Pak­istan and In­dia. Law­mak­ers in the Pak­istan Na­tional As­sem­bly unan­i­mously de­cried the ‘flawed war crimes tri­als’ and urged the gov­ern­ment to take up the mat­ter in the In­ter­na­tional Court of Jus­tice. The Pak­istan For­eign Of­fice ex­pressed ‘shock and an­guish’ over the ‘un­for­tu­nate ex­e­cu­tions’ but the Bangladesh gov­ern­ment called Pak­istan’s re­ac­tion ‘un­ac­cept­able in­ter­fer­ence’ in its in­ter­nal af­fairs.

It was said by Pak­istani par­lia­men­tar­i­ans that in per­pe­trat­ing the ex­e­cu­tions, the Bangladeshi Prime Min­is­ter Sheikh Hasina Wa­jid was vi­o­lat­ing a tri­par­tite agree­ment signed by Pak­istan, Bangladesh and In­dia in 1974. The agree­ment had called for a spirit of ‘for­give and forget’ and the Gov­ern­ment of Bangladesh had de­cided not to pro­ceed with any war tri­als as an act of clemency. The orig­i­nal 1973 leg­is­la­tion for the es­tab­lish­ment of war crimes had been set aside by Hasina Wa­jid’s fa­ther and Bangladesh’s founder Shaikh Mu­jibur Rehman af­ter the tri­par­tite agree­ment was signed in April 1974 for the repa­tri­a­tion of war pris­on­ers. Shaikh Mu­jibur Rehman had said that in the in­ter­est of re­gional peace, no one would be put on trial for al­leged crimes com­mit­ted dur­ing the 1971 war. The agree­ment was signed in Delhi by the then for­eign min­is­ters of Bangladesh, In­dia and Pak­istan and had in­cluded a prom­ise by the Bangladesh for­eign min­is­ter that “the gov­ern­ment of Bangladesh had de­cided not to pro­ceed with the tri­als as an act of clemency.” The ac­cord had specif­i­cally men­tioned a state­ment by Bangladesh Premier Shaikh Mu­jibur Rehman say­ing that he wanted the peo­ple to forget the past and to make a fresh start and the peo­ple of Bangladesh knew how to for­give. The Bangladesh gov­ern­ment had soon af­ter the agree­ment re­voked a tri­bunal it had es­tab­lished for the trial of what it called ‘col­lab­o­ra­tors.’

The is­sue resur­faced in a big way when Hasina Wa­jid made the trial of ‘war crimes’ ac­cused an elec­tion prom­ise in 2008. Af­ter win­ning the polls she pro­ceeded with the tri­als. Two tri­bunals were set up, which in­dicted more than a dozen men, most of them from the Ja­maat-i-Is­lami. Sen­tences have been handed down in most of the cases. Four men con­victed by the tri­bunals have so far been ex­e­cuted. An­other ac­cused died while his ap­peal against con­vic­tion was be­ing heard. The re­cent ex­e­cu­tion of the two Bangladeshi op­po­si­tion lead­ers ap­pears to have cowed down ri­vals of Prime Min­is­ter Sheikh Hasina, but crit­ics say her suc­cess comes at the cost of free dis­course. Po­lit­i­cal an­a­lysts and op­po­si­tion lead­ers have warned that the ex­e­cu­tions have sent a sig­nal that violence is the only po­lit­i­cal tool that works. The shock felt by the op­po­si­tion which has al­ready suf­fered mass ar­rests may lead to fur­ther blood­shed. There was still an opin­ion in Bangladesh that Hasina’s pop­u­lar­ity had soared due to the over­whelm­ing sup­port of the peo­ple in favour of ex­e­cu­tion of war crim­i­nals. It was be­ing claimed that the Bangladesh gov­ern­ment fol­lowed a pol­icy of zero tol­er­ance against ter­ror­ism or violence, whether it per­tained to re­li­gious or any other kind of ac­tiv­ity. Th­ese quar­ters felt that Hasina had been get­ting stronger be­cause she did not have any vis­i­ble op­po­si­tion. It was also true that Bangladesh had seen a rise in re­li­gious violence in re­cent months, with two for­eign­ers and four sec­u­lar writ­ers and a pub­lisher killed.

For­mer In­dian for­eign sec­re­tary Sal­man Bashir, when asked about the sanc­tity of the 1974 tri­par­tite agree­ment and the re­cent ex­e­cu­tions by the Bangladesh gov­ern­ment, said the as­sas­si­na­tions in the con­text of sham tri­als had raised se­ri­ous le­gal, moral and po­lit­i­cal is­sues and were ob­vi­ously a trav­esty of jus­tice. He said that the tri­par­tite agree­ment had been vi­o­lated. The leader of the op­po­si­tion in the Pun­jab as­sem­bly, Mian Mehmoodur Rasheed sub­mit­ted a res­o­lu­tion con­demn­ing the hang­ing of two Bangladeshi lead­ers. The res­o­lu­tion called the ex­e­cu­tions “tragic, bru­tal and bi­ased.” The res­o­lu­tion also stated that ex­e­cut­ing those who be­lieved in the ide­ol­ogy of Pak­istan was re­gret­table. For­mer Pak­istan for­eign sec­re­tary Shamshad Ahmed de­scribed the tri­par­tite agree­ment as a le­gal doc­u­ment un­der which the Bangladesh gov­ern­ment had a con­trac­tual com­mit­ment, which it needed to hon­our. For­mer Pak­istani law min­is­ter and in­ter­na­tional law ex­pert Ah­mer Bi­lal Soofi be­lieved the trial of those ac­cused of ‘war crimes’ was marred by abuse of due process of law. More­over, he said, the tri­als had se­ri­ous is­sues of ret­ro­spec­tiv­ity and de­nial of jus­tice, be­sides vi­o­lat­ing Ar­ti­cle 14 of In­ter­na­tional Covenant on Civil and Po­lit­i­cal Rights. He also said the ex­e­cu­tions vi­o­lated the 1974 tri­par­tite agree­ment and Pak­istan could take up the is­sue at in­ter­na­tional fo­rums.

Where is South Asia headed?

Syed Jawaid Iqbal

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